One of the unknowns of the Russia investigation is the exact role of the Steele dossier in the actual investigatory work of Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The opposition research report on then-candidate Donald Trump’s ties to Russia was paid for, in part, by the DNC and Hillary Clinton’s campaign and was compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele. The 35-page dossier that makes extraordinary claims from sex acts to evidence Trump had been compromised was published by BuzzFeed last January.
Foreign Policy reported Monday that BuzzFeed has been working to verify portions of the dossier and has employed Anthony Ferrante, a former top FBI investigator who now works for FTI Consulting, to investigate the dossier’s claims. Ferrante and a team of experts spent the last six months tracking down leads, according to Foreign Policy. BuzzFeed’s interest in verifying the document is not editorial, rather it is in response to a libel suit filed against the company by 37-year-old Russian tech executive Aleksej Gubarev. Gubarev, who lives in Cyprus and heads a Luxembourg-based tech company, filed suit last year against BuzzFeed in Florida, where the subsidiary Webzilla, which was named in the Steele dossier, is based. The apparent reasoning behind the BuzzFeed investigation is: if it’s true, it’s not libel.
“The suit focuses on allegations, made near the end of the dossier, that Mr. Gubarev and his company were involved in hacking operations against the leadership of the Democratic Party,” the New York Times reported shortly after it was filed. “In the complaint, Mr. Gubarev’s lawyers say that BuzzFeed acted recklessly; that none of the statements have any basis in fact; and that Mr. Gubarev’s association with the dossier has left his reputation ‘in tatters,’ compromised his family’s security and damaged his company’s business prospects.” After the suit was filed in January 2017, BuzzFeed redacted Gubarev’s name and apologized for including it in the memo’s release, which redacted other names before it was released. While the FTI investigation is tasked with verifying claims made in the dossier specifically about Gubarev and Webzilla, Foreign Policy reports, its scope has since expanded.